By Teresa Sheffield
70% of Americans own a pet, and while the idea of buying insurance for your furry best friend may seem a little over-the-top, it’s actually increasing in popularity. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, the number of insured dogs and cats has doubled since 2017 to nearly 4 million.
On average, dog owners go to the vet 2.4 times a year, and cat owners 1.3 times, that’s according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. I spoke with Dr. Ilona Musil from Two Dogs and a Cat in Overland Park, Kan. Dr. Musil has been a vet for 43 years and says that for many pet owners, insurance can be a lifesaver.
“Even four, five years ago, I would’ve said you don’t need pet insurance, you’ll be fine, and then just seeing how the profession is going, I recommend it,” Dr. Musil said. “The profession is changing, and things are becoming much, much more expensive. Across the board, prices are going up 10 percent and more, just like everywhere else in the grocery store. If your pet develops something, it’s going to be really costly.”
Average Pet Treatment Costs
|Condition||Average cost for dogs||Average cost for cats|
|Ingested foreign objects||$3,500||$3,400|
|Feline kidney disease||N/A||$1,300|
“My son, his dog ate a kitchen towel, and they had to go in and do surgery, and it was $3,000. [His insurance] paid all of it but $500. It’s one of those things where for once, he sort of acted like I actually knew what I was doing,” Dr. Musil said with a laugh. “But insurance is pretty cheap compared to some of these bills. If they end up at a specialist, it’s not uncommon for those bills to be $10,000, and if you’re paying $40, $50, $60 a month, depending on what’s covered, you can save a lot.”
Where can I find the best deal?
A lot of the larger human insurance companies now offer pet insurance as one of their perks, so many people don’t even have to do research, they can just call their insurance agent and add it to their plan.
Dr. Musil said that a huge benefit of pet insurance compared to human insurance is that your vet is much more likely to accept it because it’s not a hassle for them. While many M.D.s have to hire people exclusively to handle insurance, the process is a lot more streamlined for vets, and they don’t really have to deal with any paperwork.
For those who are not able to add it to their own health insurance, U.S. News and World Report have ranked the Top 5 Best Pet Insurers, and we’ve done some analysis for a quick view. (All quotes are samples and averages, they can change based on your specific pet, as can copays and deductibles, we recommend getting your own quote.)
|Insurer||Dog sample premium||Cat sample premium||Plan types||Summary|
|Spot||$36.54||$16.51||Accident only or accident and illness plans. Preventative care wellness plans are also available.||This is ranked number one because, dollar for dollar, Spot will give you the most bang for your buck. However, it does not offer some of the coverage and specialties that some of the other more expensive plans do. It does offer unlimited coverage options and discounts for additional pets.|
|Lemonade||$19.44||$11.00||Basic accident and illness policy, as well as three wellness plan options to help with preventative care.||Lemonade has the cheapest sample monthly pet insurance rates for dogs and cats on this list. They also have several discount options that can make that coverage even cheaper.|
|Trupanion||$70.12||$30.88||Comprehensive dog and cat insurance covers accidents, illnesses, injuries, and medical conditions, including breed-specific conditions. Trupanion also sells Recovery and Complementary Care, which covers certain treatments, like behavioral modification, chiropractic, and acupuncture.||This costs the most but also covers the most. There are no coverage limits. If you have a senior pet or an accident or illness-prone pet, this may be the coverage for you. Covers breed-specific conditions and congenital conditions. There are also policy add-ons available for pet owners’ assistance, which can cover things like damage your pet causes to someone else’s property or boarding fees for your pet if you become hospitalized. Trupanion doesn’t offer a wellness policy or rider, and it won’t cover things like preventative care.|
|Embrace||$29.71||$12.22||Accident-only plan or accident and illness plans. There is also an optional non-insurance-based Wellness Rewards plan that covers routine exams, spaying/neutering, teeth cleaning, and more.||You can choose any licensed vet. Also, for each year a pet owner does not receive a claim reimbursement, Embrace will decrease a customer’s deductible by $50. In addition, the company offers a 10% discount for insuring more than one pet. No included wellness or preventative care coverage.|
|Pets Best||$44.37||$16.54||Accident only or accident and illness plans. Optional Routine Care coverage is also available.||No upper age limits for enrollment. Pets Best provides coverage for accidents and illnesses as well as the option of adding coverage for preventative care. Its policies have reimbursement rates ranging from 70% to 90% and annual coverage limits.|
Here are a few things to keep in mind
Your premium depends on things like the pet’s breed and age, any policy add-ons, choice of deductible, and the cost of vet care in your area. Very few pet insurance covers pre-existing conditions.
“Look at reviews, just like every insurance, and there’s some that are better than others. If you have a dog like a German Shepherd, some pet insurance won’t cover their hips because they’re prone to hip problems,” Dr. Musil said. “So you need to look and make sure your breed is covered.”
Pet owners should have insurance for the first two years of a pet’s life
Because almost no pet insurers cover pre-existing conditions, if you get pet insurance when they’re a puppy or a kitten, everything is covered because no conditions are pre-existing.
“I tell people the first two years of a pet’s life, you should have pet insurance. If they’re gonna have allergies, you’re gonna see it in the first two years, joint problems, you’re gonna get an indication of that in the first two years. If your dog is gonna eat something they shouldn’t, you’ll see it in the first two years. I had one dog that ate three pairs of pantyhose,” Dr. Musil laughed.
“They say the first year of a dog’s life is the first 16 years of an adult, the second year is 8. So, in theory, a 3-year-old is like a 24-year-old person and is a responsible member of society. A 2-year-old dog is likely to do dumb stuff, and insurance is likely to save them a lot of money. If you have a Lab and you don’t have pet insurance in the first two years, you are making a mistake.” (Labrador Retrievers have an insatiable appetite and are prone to chew on anything, this can lead to ingesting dangerous items which are very expensive to extract.)
“If you know your pet has allergies, you are gonna spend way less. If you have a nice calm dog that doesn’t have intestinal problems, you may not need it as much. If they have a sensitive stomach, you might want to consider it. After two years, you reevaluate.”
Having pet insurance can prevent difficult choices
“I have people who come in, and they have a lot of disposable income, and I have people come in, and it’s a question of rent vs. taking care of their pet. I’ve seen people have to make choices,” Dr. Musil said. “Things are so expensive now, and my theory is if you have the insurance, you won’t need it, if you don’t, you will. It’s peace of mind.”